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Another Voice: Reading, talking to infants promotes brain development

By Anne Ryan

That book you read and talk about with your 18-month-old today may show up in her IQ, verbal comprehension and vocabulary skills when she’s 13.

An article published in October’s Journal of Pediatrics concludes that “early talk and interaction, particularly during the relatively narrow developmental window of 18-24 months of age, can be used to predict school-age language and cognitive outcomes. With these findings, we underscore the need for effective early intervention programs that support parents in creating an optimal early language learning environment at home.”

Read to Succeed Buffalo began in 2007 in response to staggering literacy deficits among Buffalo students. Studies show that if a student is poor, attends a school with a high number of other poor children, and is not reading at grade level by the end of third grade, he or she is 13 times less likely to graduate. All RTSB programming is built upon the bedrock of this language acquisition research and seeks to provide all children access to the best and most effective literacy-rich environments available.  

One of these programs, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, is particularly poised to support language development in the home. Imagination Library is an international book distribution program currently serving 1,700 communities worldwide that provides targeted support in low-income neighborhoods. RTSB has partnered with Imagination Library since 2012 and currently mails monthly books to 1,800 of Erie County’s most at risk infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

Imagination Library is a critical strategy to closing the literacy achievement gap before it starts by getting brand new age-appropriate books directly into the hands of low-income families. Each book is thoughtfully chosen, providing balanced exposure to activities and language that expands the vocabulary and experience base for economically disadvantaged children before they enter school. Parents, regardless of economic status, need only look in the mirror to see the person best equipped to read and have brain building conversations with their children using these books. If you live in the 14207, 14210, 14213 or 14215 ZIP codes and have a child 58 months or younger or know someone who does, visit readtosucceedbuffalo.org to register.

Recent research also finds that while there are 12 children’s books per every one middle-income child, there is only one book per every 300 low-income children. By increasing access to age-appropriate books in the home, children in communities of poverty have more opportunity to develop knowledge of how printed language functions in preparation for school. In fact, as this recent research confirms, the most important aspects of children’s language experience are quantity and quality of exposure through adults interacting in back and forth conversations with infants and toddlers in a meaningful way.

So, think about the books and conversations you are sharing with your child and help improve the literacy skills of tomorrow, today.

Anne Ryan is executive director of Read to Succeed Buffalo.

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